Amid China activities in Pacific, US military should turn to machine learning: American admiral

US Joint Forces should employ machine learning to better anticipate threats in the Pacific amid China’s activities in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, according to a senior American commander in the region.

Addressing Silicon Valley executives on Tuesday at an event hosted by the Defence Innovation Unit, a Pentagon group created to hasten the use of cutting-edge technologies, Admiral Samuel Paparo described difficulties the US had in picking up on military warnings.

Paparo said the past three years had been marked by an “erosion of strategic, operational and tactical” warnings, noting China’s military had experienced significant changes in its force levels and preparations.

The People’s Liberation Army was “raising the threshold of warning” to a point that soon the US would see “a force sufficient to execute a profound military operation” in the field “operating under a fig leaf of exercise”, the US Navy admiral added.

Other regional challenges included North Korea’s military provocation, Russia’s maritime ambitions in the Pacific, and the two countries’ weapons trade, he said.

While the Joint Forces have increasingly partnered with US allies, Paparo said “mass data analytics and processing” as well as the evaluation and dissemination of intelligence products should “go deeper to be able to determine” warnings.

Data analytics, for instance, could improve the American forces’ ability to forecast the intentions of competitors and “be prepared for aggression”.

Paparo said the challenge amounted to “what application can execute the mass data analytics and the precise covariance calculations that deliver a true, accurate picture to the war fighter [instantaneously] … with a low probability of intercept and with the kind of encryption that ensures that it’s secure”.

US military leaders have watched developments in the Pacific with mounting interest as Beijing has stepped up military drills and bolstered its presence in the South China Sea and the waters near Taiwan in recent years.

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Paparo said these developments represented China’s “undaunted ambitions for its excessive claims or their desire to coerce, if not effect through the use of force”.

The PLA regularly sends fighter jets, drones, and warships near Taiwan, with the island’s defence ministry saying China deployed surveillance balloons ahead of its presidential election last month.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China to be reunited by force if necessary.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Washington is opposed to any attempt to take the self-governed island by force and is committed to supplying it with weapons.

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US President Joe Biden has said US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a mainland attack – an assertion Beijing has denounced.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on the US to stop arming Taiwan, calling the island the “most dangerous” issue in the Sino-American relationship.

Washington has also repeatedly condemned Chinese military moves in the South China Sea. Beijing claims historical sovereignty against neighbouring countries over the contested waters that fall within what it calls the “nine-dash line”.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have intensified in recent months, with frequent stand-offs taking place near Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal, territories that both and other countries claim as their own.

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